Why Thrifting Might Not Be as Sustainable as You'd Think

By: Sophie Diego

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure: a mantra that perfectly defines the exhilaration of thrift shopping.

My mother always kept herself busy in the home decor and accessories section of Value Village, looking for sturdy pots and woven baskets. You could find me amid the clothing racks, where I'd peruse through decades of fashion- dating from those horrible 90's popcorn shirts to the low-riding jeans of the 2000s. If I took the time to efficiently pick through the pile, maybe I’d get lucky with a brand new blouse from Zara. 

Or maybe I'd get extra lucky and find myself a cute sherpa denim jacket (the hottest jean trend of 2019), a Reformation-inspired dress, or a 90s pastel bomber jacket to pair with that brand new Zara blouse. 

With my cart full, it’d be time to check out before I buy the rest of the store. 

But now, three months after my latest thrifting adventure, I only find myself wearing the jeans on an occasional basis. The dress is see-through, the sherpa denim jacket is too itchy to wear, and the Zara blouse is tedious to iron. It’s time to send them off to another charity shop - an excuse to go out thrifting for replacements.

“It’s being recycled back into the fashion cycle - it’s not like I’m throwing it away,” I tell myself.

What makes charity shops so appealing is their wide selection of styles, along with a reasonably cheap price tag. However, this can also be said for fast fashion brands such as Forever 21 and H&M. 

Thrifting is seen as a more sustainable option, but is it really?

Sustainability and being environmentally conscious will always go back to the importance of quality over quantity. If you are buying the same Forever 21 tee that is marked down to $3 from $7, that t-shirt is still going to fall apart, even though it’s thrifted. The problem with buying from second-hand shops is that some of the clothes will not last very long. 

So, with that said, how can an average consumer think sustainably when out thrifting? Here are some tips:

Don’t buy essentials at thrift stores.

Basic wardrobe essentials such as autumn and winter jackets, boots and sneakers shouldn’t necessarily be bought at secondary shops. Usually, what’s on the rack are cheap and thin knock-offs that won’t keep you warm or insulated at all. Trust me- I bought what I thought to be brand new Vans and they ended up having holes at the tip of the shoe by the end of the month. Invest your money into something that’s brand new- and of course, if you have access to sustainably sourced stores, buy from there.

Ask yourself: will you wear it more than once?

I live by one rule when I shop; if the item is 10 dollars, will I wear it at least ten times? If the item is 100 dollars, will I wear it 100 times? If the answer is no, then I won’t be taking it to the cashier. If you try on something cute but it turns out to be slightly uncomfortable or ill-fitting, chances are you will never wear it. 

Altering isn’t everything. 

I used to be guilty of this. I used to hack men’s jeans to fit me but then I ran into the trouble of stitching through thick denim. I used to buy giant dresses with pretty fabric to make something that would fit me. But those projects started accumulating and I never got into the rhythm of altering them. You might be a sewing wizard but altering 30 items in hopes in wearing them will soon seem like a strenuous task. 

Be extremely picky 

What’s saved me the most money, time and space in my wardrobe is being picky when I shop. Is it comfortable? Will it match at least 10 outfits I have at home? Is there anything I don’t like about this? If it doesn’t tick off every box for me or if I still have my doubts about it, I won’t buy it. You need to be 100 per cent sure with your purchases if you want a well-kept closet.

It takes a while to learn these tips but the bottom line is: don’t get too excited over a particularly savvy thrift find. Process it; think about your closet, your style and the future you and your new T-shirt will have. Remember, thrifting isn’t the solution to sustainability- it’s just a step forward.